The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It by Jennifer Moss

This book should be a desktop reference for anyone who is responsible for managing other people.

As burnout rates reach epidemic levels, it is critical for all health and well-being professionals to understand the contributors to this global problem. As someone who has struggled with burnout in the past, I picked up this book because I wanted to better understand how I can prevent it from reoccurring. And as a friend and family member to numerous others who are experiencing burnout, I wanted to understand how I could be a better support to them.  


This book has three sections and I appreciate how it doesn’t beat around the bush in getting straight to meaty content.


The first section focuses on the six main causes of burnout including workload, perceived lack of control, lack of reward/recognition, poor relationships, lack of fairness, and values mismatch. Following an overview of each major cause of burnout are specific strategies that address the cause. All solutions focus on what managers and leaders can do to create a culture of health and well-being at work. This section also identifies populations that are especially vulnerable including those with certain personalities or characteristics (e.g., perfectionists and introverts). It’s especially helpful that there are suggestions for how to recognize and support team members that fit these profiles. Professionals in specific industries are also covered in this chapter, including healthcare workers, educators, and those in the high-tech sector. Again, specific strategies are offered to support the special needs of these workers.


The second section gets right into solutions, including how to measure/assess burnout in employee populations. The first chapter in the solutions section discusses how organizations may fail to address burnout through misguided solutions such as offering more wellness programs, benefits, and perks without addressing underlying cultural issues. These solutions include unlimited vacation policies, mandatory team building events, and certain family planning perks.


The measurement chapter provides guidance on specific measurement tools and discusses the merits and limitations of each. Specific strategies are offered to collect qualitative data to support and complement findings from quantitative data. And special attention is paid to appropriate and inappropriate uses of such data. The discussion on the relationship between burnout and employee engagement is especially insightful.


Section three focuses on the essential role of leadership to address the organizational causes of burnout, including how leadership styles and characteristics can contribute to burnout among those they lead. Specific attention is paid to the relationships between curiosity, team dynamics, authentic relating, empathy, psychological safety, active listening, and burnout. Each discussion of a concept is followed with specific strategies leaders and managers can use to lead their teams and organizations more effectively.


This third section also addresses what leaders can do to support burnout prevention for themselves. The author ties her extensive research on happiness to the discussion about burnout. Research on the role of hope, efficacy, resilience, optimism, gratitude, empathy, mindfulness is discussed with more suggestions on how leaders can build these strengths for themselves and others.


While the book is laden with research to support the author’s recommendations, it is also laced with practical solutions and employer examples. I appreciate the author’s vulnerability in sharing her own experiences of burnout as a burnout researcher because it underscores the fact that burnout is not a knowledge problem but a systems problem.


The book does a good job of summarizing the nature of the problem without stopping short of solutions. So many books represent an impassioned call for change but do not go deep enough on concrete solutions.


While the book repeatedly points to the need for systemic solutions, it also addresses some individual-level strategies that can help prevent burnout. I found the section on self-care to be very insightful because it helps connect the dots between individual-level resilience-building solutions and the research on burnout. The author points out that individual resilience will only get one so far in the face of unmitigated and sustained systemic issues that contribute to burnout.


The book is very focused on upstream preventative solutions and the focus is on fixing organizational systems. Given the significant number of people dealing with burnout, this is a book that nearly anyone could benefit from. It clarifies what it means to experience burnout and helps those in leadership to avoid common mistakes about how to address it. The ideal reader of this book is anyone in a managerial or leadership role in an organization, or those who advise them on employee well-being strategy.


Overall, this book is highly practical and solution oriented. I have a much more comprehensive understanding of the contributors and solutions for burnout after reading this book.